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- Do it yourself – but safety first
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Do it yourself – but safety first
Are you remodelling your bathroom or lacquering the floors in your home? Some of the products you might want to use for these renovations could contain substances that harm your health, so it is important that you take the necessary safety precautions. A recent Danish Environmental Protection Agency project checked the safety of some products used in ‘do it yourself’ (DIY) work. We spoke with Nadine Heidi Brueckmann, a technician at the agency, about the findings of this project.
The project examined products commonly used in DIY projects and looked at whether they pose health risks. “Every year, our agency finances around four to six projects through which we aim to gain knowledge on what chemicals are found in certain types of consumer products. In this project, we wanted to investigate whether people carrying out home renovations are at risk,” Ms Brueckmann explains.
Focus on floor lacquers, paints and waxes
The starting point for the project was to map the DIY projects in which the products typically used may lead to an increased exposure to chemicals. 54 products were selected based on information gathered from retailers, craftsmen and DIY websites, as well as from the experts of the project team.
The project’s scope was then narrowed to focus on harmful substances found in products used for treating or renovating wooden and concrete flooring and for renovating bathrooms. Such products need to have specific characteristics, one of which is durability. Some of the substances used to achieve this quality have been linked to certain health concerns, such as increased risk of skin sensitisation or of developing cancer.
After laboratory studies and initial hazard assessment, the project team chose to examine the risks of nine products in more detail. These were selected based on the potential risks they posed and included, for example, floor lacquers, paints and waxes. All the products were purchased from building markets, where they can be easily bought by consumers.
|Nadine Heidi Brueckmann. |
Image: Nadine Heidi Brueckmann.
"Even four weeks after
Majority of tested products pose health risks
Eight of the nine products tested were shown to pose some risks to human health if used without appropriate safety equipment such as protective gloves or a respiratory mask.
Many of the observed concerns were related to products which can emit volatile compounds. Such compounds may be released, for example, during the drying and hardening of floor waxes and acid-curing or solvent-based floor paints.
Volatile compounds can cause damage to the central nervous system. Furthermore, such substances may also have other effects – for instance, benzene, an ingredient in some floor waxes, can cause cancer. “This shows that people using these products during renovation work are exposed to health hazards. But this is not the only concern – we found that people living in the renovated spaces afterwards are also affected,” Ms Brueckmann points out.
Acid-curing lacquers may contain formaldehyde, and solvent-based paints used on concrete floors 2-butanone oxime. “These substances can cause mucosal irritation and adverse effects on the respiratory tract. Even four weeks after the renovation work has finished, the emissions can still pose a risk to people using the renovated rooms,” she explains.
Safety equipment is also important in avoiding skin contact with these products. “Many of the tested products – for example, chemical wood, acid-curing floor lacquer, floor paints, wet-room paint and sealing foam – can lead to skin sensitisation in connection with dermal exposure,” Ms Brueckmann tells.
Remember to ventilate
Based on the findings of the project, Ms Brueckmann has clear recommendations to people renovating their homes. “It is very important to properly ventilate rooms not only during work, but also for up to one month afterwards. We generally advise people to open their windows twice a day for five minutes at a time and to regularly clean their rooms from dust, as this reduces exposure to chemicals in dust particles. However, after some home renovation projects, longer and more regular ventilation might be needed.”
The person carrying out the renovation and using the products should make sure that they use appropriate safety equipment. “A mask that protects you from dust is not sufficient to protect you from organic solvents in the air, and not all gloves give you the same level of protection,” she emphasises.
Ms Brueckmann also calls for more research on safer alternatives. “In our test, water-based products did not show the same risks as solvent-based ones. However, for us, it is not yet clear whether safer alternatives could offer the same durability as the products that potentially pose health risks.”
“As a next step, we will be following up on this project to get a better understanding of the market. This includes obtaining more knowledge on the tested products, their use, correct labelling and potential alternatives”, she concludes.
The project by Danish Environmental Protection Agency was carried out between April and December 2017, in collaboration with the COWI and DHI consulting groups and the Danish Technological Institute.
Interview by Tiiu Bräutigam
Published on: 21 February 2019
Top image: © Pixabay/midascode
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